Friday, February 03, 2006

Director of British Library concerned about drm

A director of the British Library, Dr Clive Field, has expressed concerns about the deployment of digital rights management(drm) technologies. In a written submission to the All Party Internet Group enquiry into drm, he says drm must not "exert excessive control on access to information.

This will fundamentally threaten the longstanding and accepted concepts of fair dealing and library privilege and undermine, or even prevent, legitimate public good access."

He told the BBC: "We have genuinely tried to maintain that balance between the public interest and respecting rights holders

We are genuinely concerned that technology inadvertently may be disturbing that balance, and that would be unhelpful ultimately to the national interest."

I've been thinking about this in the context of the second law of thermodynamics, which, as described in minute detail by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, basically underpins the entire economic process (though most people don't realise this and sometimes I think we've made a unique artform out of scientific ignorance). Materials and energy transformations always generate some waste (or, for the scientifically literate, increase entropy). This has fundamental implications for the enonomic process in a world of limited resources. Now intellectual property does not suffer from the same problem as material resources in that it is technically non rivalrous, so it theoretically won't run out. However, there are a number of issues/problems/opportunites raised in this context:

Firstly digital information fundamentally depends on energy, which is a limited resource.

Secondly intellectual property, it has been argued, is also getting locked up and controlled to an unprecedented degree through laws and drm technologies. This raises fundamental questions about the future of the knowledge society.

Digital information is also getting locked up in technological formats that fairly rapidly become obsolete and inaccessible to later generations, which is what Mr Field is rightly concerned about.

There must theoretically be an optimum cost associated with implementing the laws and technologies that folk like Larry Lessig worry about, that limits the process. Even though theoretically once it is done the supply well of a particular piece of intellectual property would be infinitely deep; and though dipping into that well to sustain a supply chain could be done at vitually no cost to the owner, the cost of the process of locking up the information (through laws and technologies as Larry argues) could form a significant economic constraint, particularly given the finite nature of the atoms (material resources) that are required to generate the energy to keep the information bits flowing.

I probably need to work out the idea in an academic paper when I get the time but this seems like an area worth exploring.

No comments: